We Are All Georgians reposted from the Wall Street Journal
August 14, 2008; Page A13
For anyone who thought that stark international aggression was a thing of the past, the last week must have come as a startling wake-up call. After clashes in the Georgian region of South Ossetia, Russia invaded its neighbor, launching attacks that threaten its very existence. Some Americans may wonder why events in this part of the world are any concern of ours. After all, Georgia is a small, remote and obscure place. But history is often made in remote, obscure places.
As Russian tanks and troops moved through the Roki Tunnel and across the internationally recognized border into Georgia, the Russian government stated that it was acting only to protect Ossetians. Yet regime change in Georgia appears to be the true Russian objective.
Two years ago, I traveled to South Ossetia. As soon as we arrived at its self-proclaimed capital — now occupied by Russian troops — I saw an enormous billboard that read, “Vladimir Putin, Our President.” This was on sovereign Georgian territory.
Russian claims of humanitarian motives were further belied by a bombing campaign that encompassed the whole of Georgia, destroying military bases, apartment buildings and other infrastructure, and leaving innocent civilians wounded and killed. As the Russian Black Sea Fleet began concentrating off of the Georgian coast and Russian troops advanced on one city after another, there could be no doubt about the nature of their aggression.
Despite a French-brokered cease-fire — which worryingly does not refer to Georgia’s territorial integrity — Russian attacks have continued. There are credible reports of civilian killings and even ethnic cleansing as Russian troops move deeper into Georgian territory.
Moscow’s foreign minister revealed at least part of his government’s aim when he stated that “Mr. Saakashvili” — the democratically elected president of Georgia — “can no longer be our partner. It would be better if he went.” Russia thereby demonstrated why its neighbors so ardently seek NATO membership.
In the wake of this crisis, there are the stirrings of a new trans-Atlantic consensus about the way we should approach Russia and its neighbors. The leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate their support for Georgia, and to condemn Russian aggression. The French president traveled to Moscow in an attempt to end the fighting. The British foreign minister hinted of a G-8 without Russia, and the British opposition leader explicitly called for Russia to be suspended from the grouping.
The world has learned at great cost the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked. A cease-fire that holds is a vital first step, but only one. With our allies, we now must stand in united purpose to persuade the Russian government to end violence permanently and withdraw its troops from Georgia. International monitors must gain immediate access to war-torn areas in order to avert an even greater humanitarian disaster, and we should ensure that emergency aid lifted by air and sea is delivered.
We should work toward the establishment of an independent, international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions, and stand ready to help our Georgian partners put their country back together. This will entail reviewing anew our relations with both Georgia and Russia. As the NATO secretary general has said, Georgia remains in line for alliance membership, and I hope NATO will move ahead with a membership track for both Georgia and Ukraine.
At the same time, we must make clear to Russia’s leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability and peace of that world. The U.S. has cancelled a planned joint military exercise with Russia, an important step in this direction.
The Georgian people have suffered before, and they suffer today. We must help them through this tragedy, and they should know that the thoughts, prayers and support of the American people are with them. This small democracy, far away from our shores, is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals. As I told President Saakashvili on the day the cease-fire was declared, today we are all Georgians. We mustn’t forget it.